By Raghunath Ghodake and Seniorl Anzu
THE recent trend of high food prices and food shortages in the world offer Papua New Guinea a real golden opportunity to be food secure and self-reliant.
PNG should take advantage of the situation and improve on agricultural productivity and production, especially in the food and livestock sectors.
This is simply possible as PNG is endowed with the necessary agro-climatic resources and genetic diversity to produce a variety of food crops and outputs not only for domestic consumption but also for export to needy countries.
The most topical issue with governments and international organisations is the “skyrocketing of food prices and rising shortages of food worldwide”.
The world went through a food catastrophe. The world maize, rice and wheat stocks had fallen drastically to 40%-60% lower than average. The aggregate food price index had risen by 83% over the year last year.
The price of rice had doubled. This trend applied to many other food commodities.
Some 11 food exporting countries had banned food export, especially for major commodities such as grains and cereals.
High food prices also added significantly to the upward pressure on domestic inflation in both developed and developing countries.
People were dying from food riots and protests. Farmers went on strike in opposition to governments’ imposition of new export tax regimes in order to safeguard domestic food security.
This had affected 20 million children and pushed an additional 100 million people into poverty, adding to the already 900 million people living below poverty line.
The causes were many, including high costs of fossil fuels (doubled over a short period of one year in 2008), the switch to bio-fuels by some countries such as the US, trade restrictions, unfavourable weather conditions and speculations in food trade.
One obvious reason appeared to be that the world has been consuming more food than it has been producing. Simply we are not efficient enough in producing agricultural outputs, especially food commodities.
The other important emerging signal is the failure of international markets which are supposedly operating on the basis of free market forces.
Also to be blamed is the long-term policy of encouraging cash crops at the expense of food crops and food self sufficiency in many developing countries.
However, most importantly, the world is not investing enough in agriculture.
The sector is grossly underinvested and underused. It is often misplaced in policy decision making and development investments. And PNG is very much in this category.
Given the agricultural situation, the global community is truly at the crossroads.
While the forces of supply and demand may solve this problem, it may take four to six years and that too would require different arrangements in world food trade.
These developments give PNG the chance to improve its production and productivity of food and livestock and become food assured and self reliant.
PNG must not only produce enough for its own consumption but also for export to many needy countries.
In doing so, PNG could establish new food trade relationships.
Once established, it would be easier to continue and maintain such exports.
The timing is right for us to make this happen.
PNG has the advantage because of its huge resource base and potentials which are yet to be explored.
This nation has just six million people with enormous agricultural resources such as vast land mass, fertile soil and favourable climate for various types and kinds of crops.
PNG has a rich bio-diversity and a variety of food species, fruits and nuts, and cash crops.
Farmers can grow various crops including cereals and pulses together with a range of livestock species.
There are also abundant land and bio-mass, creating opportunities for bio-fuels as well.
PNG has made modest advances on the technology front in terms of improved varieties and practices for a range of agricultural commodities and environments.
There is a huge potential in applying modern bio-technology, processing techniques and value adding, and linking farmers to markets.
Much of this can be achieved through science and technology with appropriate policy and capacity development.
This also means that there must be favourable policies towards agriculture with adequate funding.
These must be supported by governance and management of agricultural programmes and projects at all levels.
Thus there is a real golden opportunity for PNG not only to be food assured and self reliant, but also be prosperous by being efficient in agricultural production, down-stream processing and exporting to the rest of the world.
We must not allow this opportunity to go by.
Next week’s article will focus on the potential of and need for aquaculture development in PNG.